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Day of The Dead

The Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos is a festival of welcome which the living prepare and celebrate for the souls of the dead. Everywhere in Mexico between the evenings of October 31st and November 2nd  the souls return to enjoy for a few brief hours the pleasures they once knew in life. During this time household altars are decorated with flowers and laden with offerings of food and drink. Graves are cleaned and dressed with flowers and offerings. This decoration takes many forms and the nature of the activities in the cemetery varies regionally and locally; in some areas whole villages still keep overnight vigils in the cemetery. In Mexico the observation of this feast is a deeply rooted and complex event that continues to be of great significance for many people.


In the countryside there are few skulls or skeletons; the images of the Christian saints who replaced the old gods, stand on the household altars surrounded by the same offerings of food and flowers as were prepared for ancient feasts. The yellow marigold the cempasuchil or ‘flower of the dead’ – has been associated with festivals for the dead since pre-Hispanic times; both its color and aromatic scent are important for they are thought to attract the souls towards the offering. The other most common flower is the brilliant magenta cockscomb. Bread shops make special bread called hojaldras that is placed on the altars. The blue smoke of burning copal incense sanctifies the ceremony, just as it has done for centuries.


Dia de los Muertos, also called Todos Santos (All Saints’), is a Catholic feast. All Saints’ (All-Hallows’ or Hallowmas), November 1st, is the commemorative festival of all Christian saints and martyrs known or unknown and was probably introduced into the festival cycle by Pope Boniface IV in the 7th century in substitution for a pagan festival of the dead. Early 16th century Spanish folk/religious practices of making food-offerings and feasting with the dead found fertile ground in Mexico where superficially similar ceremonies were an important aspect of pre-Hispanic religious ritual.


In the cities, especially Mexico City, altars can be filled with skeletons, made with themes, and often divorced from religious significance. Skeletons and skulls are increasingly popular and are less the mocking harbingers of death than the rather wry commentators upon the vanities of life. The religious beliefs are still deeply felt in rural areas where there are said to be dire consequences for not observing the necessary rites. In most versions failure to conform is sickness or even death. The making of the offering is more than an obligation, it is a vital part of maintaining good relations with the dead

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